Abortion ban bill sits in Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee will be the first in the state Senate to take up a House bill that would ban abortions in West Virginia after 20 weeks into a pregnancy except in cases of medical emergency.

HB 4588, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, advanced out of the House of Delegates, earlier this week, with a 79-17 vote.

Allen Whitt, president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, supports the bill; but, he admitted, he’s surprised the proposal has made it this far in the 2014 Regular Legislative Session.

“We are very pleased and surprised that we were able to, kind of, force the hand a little bit of the majority party,” said Whitt.  Earlier this month, an attempt to bring the proposal directly to the House floor failed on a close vote, but — because of that attempt and the involvement of West Virginians For Life — picked up momentum.

Supporters have said fetuses or unborn children can feel pain at 20 weeks in development and the state has a duty, under the law, to offer them protection.  Opponents in the House argued the bill — which includes possible jail time for doctors who violate the ban — is unconstitutional.

Glenn Cohen, co-director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Ethics at Harvard Law School, said similar laws have been successfully challenged elsewhere.

“So far, every court that’s ruled on these have found them unconstitutional,” Cohen said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”  The U.S. Supreme Court, though, has not yet addressed it a fetal pain bill.

“My guess is it (High Court) is going to let it percolate for a while and probably won’t reach out for the case until there is a split between the Courts of Appeals, if one materializes.”

Nine states have already enacted fetal pain bills.  Lawmakers in both South Carolina and Mississippi are currently considering similar legislation and bills could possibly be introduced soon in Florida, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

After the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, the bill will be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee before moving on to the Senate with just more than a week left in the 2014 Regular Legislative Session.

Senator Roman Prezioso (D-Marion, 13) — a pro-life senator — said he expects the bill to make it to the Senate floor, with some changes to the doctor penalties especially, for a vote before Saturday, March 8.

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